The University of Sydney released its first Modern Slavery Statement at the end of May, detailing its activities for 2020.
The Statement is a new statutory obligation for large Australian organisations under the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth).
While USyd did not identify any instances where it caused modern slavery, 49% of direct spending on the University’s top contractors and suppliers was on categories with potential links to modern slavery risks. The bulk of this spending was in construction.
The University engages over 5000 suppliers across 61 countries, with the vast majority (92%) of its direct spending in Australia.
In the Statement, USyd said that it was “committed to respecting human rights and taking meaningful action to address modern slavery.” In 2020, USyd published a Modern Slavery Policy, rolled out compulsory training modules to staff and established a framework for identifying and responding to modern slavery risks.
It also acknowledged that students, particularly international students, were vulnerable to exploitation and at risk of experiencing debt bondage and forced labour.
On the home front, however, critics have argued that USyd increasingly relies on the exploitation and unpaid labour of staff, with a recent Casuals Network report revealing that 90% of survey respondents performed unpaid work last semester.
In 2020, USyd admitted to underpaying staff to the tune of almost $9 million, and is yet to repay staff. A spokesperson previously told Honi that the University denied claims of “wage theft,” attributing underpayment to “payment errors.”